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Warner Rams Home a Point

'I Know I Can Still Play,' Two-Time MVP Quarterback Says

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2004; Page D17

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 19 -- He got rid of the ball quickly, just like he used to, back before anyone said Kurt Warner was shot, washed-up and at least too old and slow to get out of the way of big, strong men who wanted him mashed and fermented.

Dropping back, slightly hunched, he found receivers before the pocket collapsed. Or Kurt Warner collapsed.


Kurt Warner winds up winning for the first time as a starter since the 2002 NFC championship game with the Rams. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

 Game Day: Giants 20, Redskins 14 
 Gibbs
The New York Giants force seven turnovers to hand Joe Gibbs his first loss in his second stint with the Redskins.
Wilbon: The Redskins appear to have a quarterback deficiency.
Jenkins: Aura only goes so far in winning football games.
Clinton Portis has two uncharacteristic fumbles.
Kurt Warner makes a Giant statement against the Redskins.
Notebook: Mark Brunell is day-to-day with a left hamstring injury.
Play of the Game: Giants return Portis's fumble for a 16-yard TD.
News Graphic: Portis's rushing totals respectable after two games.
Best & Worst

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_____ Audio _____
Portis talks about his two critical fumbles against the Giants.
Giants wideout Amani Toomer on Washington's turnovers.
Giants safety Brent Alexander on his two interceptions.

_____ The Seven Deadly Sins _____
1. Fumble by Mark Brunell
13:20 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants touchdown
2. Fumble by Clinton Portis
6:45 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants touchdown
3. Interception by Brunell
5:48 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants field goal
4. Fumble by Portis
10:11 left in the third quarter
Result: Giants missed field goal
5. Interception by Patrick Ramsey
1:29 left in the third quarter
Result: Giants punt
6. Interception thrown by Ramsey
10:18 left in the fourth quarter
Result: Giants punt
7. Interception by Ramsey
6:28 left in the fourth quarter
Result: Giants punt

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Warner also won a football game Sunday, which would not be a striking development if he had not been 0 for 9 the past two years as an NFL starter. On an afternoon when Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell combined for four interceptions, Warner had none. Dating from last season, he has not thrown an interception in his last 92 attempts.

One touchdown -- a pretty 38-yard post pattern in the first half -- and a 22-for-33, 232-yard day do not make for a bust at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, or do much to quell the sentiment that Warner may not be a long-term solution for any team. Warner's last win as a starter came in the 2002 NFC championship game.

Yet Warner's ability to start fast and hang on against the Washington Redskins, to lead his team downfield with a pace and cadence missing from his counterparts, was the first sign of a possible renaissance.

"Don't remind me, it's over now," Warner said, smiling, after the New York Giants had staved off the Washington Redskins, 20-14, in New York's home opener. "It always feels good to win and it really does not feel as long as it has been."

He was asked if his performance -- at one juncture in the first half he completed eight straight passes and he began the day 14 for 16 -- made him feel vindicated. Would winning silence the detractors anxiously awaiting his retirement at just 33?

"I don't really look at it that way," Warner said. "I know I can still play. I know how everybody in the organization thinks I can still play. If everybody else around the league and around the country wants to jump on the bandwagon at this point, I don't really care."

Back when he was Horatio Alger in a helmet, Warner went from grocery bagger to the Super Bowl in a blink, it seemed.

He parlayed modest Arena League and NFL Europe careers -- Warner struck quite a pose in that Amsterdam Admirals uniform -- into a career-defining tryout with the St. Louis Rams in 1997. Within four years, Warner became the find of a player personnel director's lifetime. He had two NFL most valuable player awards and a Super Bowl MVP trophy, all before he turned 30.

It wasn't just the wins and the yardage he piled up for the Rams in that "Greatest Show on Turf" offense, either. It was Warner's hitch-and-go style. He was the classic gunslinger from a neighborhood street game, not so much calling plays as much as telling the other kids to go long until they hit the fire hydrant. He became a staple of late-night television and his autobiography was soon on bookstore shelves.

But within three years, Warner returned to mortality. He became too ponderous for a flash-bang offense and his inability to scramble led to some damaging hits and many questions about his confidence and durability.

And one day he awoke, another aging, immobile quarterback, benched by the franchise he won a Super Bowl for and eventually released by the Rams on June 1 this summer. The following day, the Giants signed him to a one-year deal. He would be rookie Eli Manning's teacher and provide a necessary stopgap at the position. His end of the deal would include instant showcasing, so he could eventually procure his last, big deal.

It has not worked out that well. His touchdown throw to Tim Carter in the first half Sunday was the first touchdown of Warner's Giants career, including preseason. His slow start once again fueled speculation that Warner is simply not dynamic or mobile enough to lead a team toward the playoffs. Already the calls for Manning to replace him began, a game into the season.

But he rallied Sunday, at times directing the Giants as well as he once directed the Rams.

"I never hung my hat on the fact that I lost something the last eight, nine games," Warner said. "I hang my hat on the good things."

Warner came into the visiting locker room after the game toting a King James bible and looking for his friend and counterpart Brunell. The two have been actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, among other evangelical-based organizations.

Brunell, 34, said they talked family, getting used to new environments and new teammates. "He was just letting me know he's going through some of the same things," Brunell said.

Said Washington's quarterback of Warner: "What does age have to do with it? He's competitive, he wants it and he still has a lot left. I have a lot of respect for Kurt. I always have."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company